Which determines the priority of insurers in an action to recover first-party no-fault benefits – the purpose for which the vehicle was being used at the time of the accident or the status of the legal title to the vehicle?
The answer to this question was the basis of a recent appellate victory by Zausmer shareholders Amy Applin and Cinnamon Plonka.
In Nicaj v State Farm, the plaintiff suffered injuries while driving a truck purchased by his business partner, used solely for their business (Metropolitan Baking Distributing or “Metro”), and insured under Metro’s policy with Travelers Insurance. Although there was no dispute as to whether the plaintiff was entitled to benefits, Travelers contested priority, arguing that State Farm, our client and the insurer of the plaintiff’s personal vehicles, was responsible for paying PIP benefits.
After a Wayne County Circuit Court judge granted Cinnamon’s motion for summary disposition in favor of State Farm, Travelers appealed, asserting that because of conflicting evidence, the trial court erred in finding that the truck was owned by the business.
Travelers relied on the fact that the only available physical title certificate showed the plaintiff’s business partner held title, and the plaintiff believed his partner held title to the vehicle personally despite the partner’s statement that he transferred title to Metro before the accident occurred.
In the unpublished opinion issued on March 23, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary disposition, agreeing with Amy’s argument that, regardless of the disputed title, Metro was a constructive owner under the Michigan Insurance Code. Consequently, because the plaintiff was an “employee driving an employer-furnished motor vehicle insured by Travelers on the day of the accident,” and absent proof that the plaintiff used the truck for personal “proprietary” purposes, Travelers – not State Farm – was first in priority to pay the plaintiff’s benefits.